Tonight was not so much fun. I came away from the plane exhausted and stressed out. The weather was “clear” but very hazy. It was hot (30C) and windy 13 knots blowing about 30 degrees off the right side of the runway. Grainne had another student when I arrived so she sent me out to start the preflight check. No problems, the fuel tanks were full and everything looked ok. I was just finished the checklist when Grainne showed up. Got the plane started and listened to ATIS, then started to taxi. Right away I had problems again, now I can more or less go in a straight line but corners are a mess, I was pressing down hard on the rudder but the plane just didn’t want to turn. I’m doing something wrong but I’m not sure what. We taxied to the run-up area and Grainne took care of turning the plane into the wind because of the problems I was having. I was nervous and my leg muscles decided to shake making it hard to hold the nose wheel steady. I had wanted to correctly practice the control surface setting for the crosswind conditions, but in the event I was way to busy just driving the plane in the required direction. I got us onto the 30R and took off. The climb was really bumpy because of the strong headwind. There was another plane that took off beside us on 30R. As we reached about 500’ Grainne grabbed the yoke and made a right turn. She may have been worried that I was going to turn left into the other planes path, because we have always made a left turn after takeoff up to now. We turned downwind and headed Southeast, climbing to 5000’ with a few S-turns to look for traffic. Near South County Airport ee did some clearing turns (90 degrees one way then 90 degrees the other) to check the area for traffic and started practicing stalls. First came power-off stalls which are relatively benign. The engine is at idle power, you are flying very slowly (45 knots or so) and you just pull back on the yoke. The plane pitches up, looses airspeed and stalls, then gently the nose falls down, you gain some airspeed and just pull the nose back to level flight. This was easy stuff. The we started the power-on stalls. For these you slow the plane down to about 60 knots. Apply full engine power and just pull the nose up and up and up until you stall. Grainne showed me one first and it was scary. If like me you are a seasoned traveler used to many hours on commercial flights then you kind of forget that planes do anything other than fly nice and smooth with a little turbulence now and then to keep things interesting. Well today I learned that they do a great impression of a roller coaster. With full power the plane just pulled way up then when it stalled its nose dropped way down and my stomach headed for my mouth. I got a real fright. Then it was my turn to try it. First we tried a few without full power and boy it just feels like the plane falls out from under you. It also has an alarming tendency to dive to the left or right. The first stall I tried dipped a long way right (Grainne said I must have started it with the ailerons ). We ended you on a heading almost 90 degrees from the one we started on once I got leveled out. Controlling the rudder is really important because its the only way you have to keep the plane going in the right direction. I tried three stalls without full power and then a couple with full power. By the last one I was recovering fairly well. But it feels real unnatural to put the plane into the stall. The we headed for Hollister Airport to practice flying the pattern. The FBO (Fixed Base Operator – just some guy who works at the airport) gave us an advisory on what runway to use (24). Its really hard to actually see the numbers painted on the runways and I had a hard time making sure I knew which runway was 24. We were at about 4000’ after the stalls so we spiraled down with three 360 degree turns to come in on a 45 degree entry to the downwind leg of the pattern. You enter the pattern at 1000” above ground level, fly parallel to the runway your going to land on. Then make a 90 degree left turn onto the base leg and shortly thereafter another onto the final leg which has you lined up with the runway. This worked great. I asked Grainne were we going to land and she said she wasn’t sure, just keep flying the approach. In the end we made a touch and go landing (you just touch the wheels on the runway and then take off again) with Grainne working the power and me driving the rest of the plane. It went well. Then it was back up to 4000’ and we headed back towards Reid Hillview. We did some climbing turns on the way up and then I did some rudder practice to try and get a feel for the adverse yaw you experience when banking into a turn. It was so hazy we really couldn’t see far, this gave me a chance to check the GPS receiver I had brought along for the trip. It was a Christmas present from my brother and I hope that flying will finally be something useful I can do with it. I spent about 3 hours last night getting the FAA aviation database loaded into it. It worked great, I just set RHV as the “goto” point and it pointed up in exactly the right direction. About 5 miles from the airport Grainne decided that it was time for my debut on the radio. She told me what to say: “Reid Hillview tower, Cessna N4754D at UTC, 4000‘, to land, with Oscar”. I said it perfectly (and remembered to press the push to talk button). No reply from the tower and Grainne said she hadn’t heard me over the intercom (I didn’t hear my voice on the intercom either). So I tried again, same result. So Grainne made the call and they heard us. Cleared to land on 31L straight in. Go figure, my first time to talk to Air Traffic Control and the radio doesn’t work. We started our descent and then Grainne showed me something called forward slipping. Basically you bank the plane one way and apply full rudder the other. Amazingly the plane flies in a straight line but descends really quickly. I tried it and it worked just fine, you just have to be careful coming out of the slip to coordinate the runner and ailerons back to their more normal positions. Again we landed with Grainne tweaking the power while I steered. It was really bumpy close to the ground. We landed fairly well and I somehow managed to steer us more or less off the runway. It was then that we had the fire in the cockpit. Well not really a fire, just a puff of smoke, an electrical insulation burning smell and one of the radios died. We quickly switched everything else off, there wasn’t any more smoke but the second radio didn’t seem to be working either (it transmitted a carrier but no voice so we couldn’t talk to ground control). We just kind of gingerly taxied back to our parking spot trying to make the radio work. I really glad that it decided to break when we were on the ground rather than trying to get setup to land. We completed the final checklists and then filled out the squawk sheet (which is just a description of what went wrong with the plane).
With my initial nervousness and problem steering on the taxiway, the sudden right turn on take-off, the surprise of the power-on stalls, and then the electrics frying it was a stressful lesson. I was exhausted and not really in a good mood afterwards. A big contrast to the elation I felt on the last flight. I hope the next lesson on Saturday goes better.